Chicago Sports Inside and Out – The Chicago Sports Maven

Bringing Chicago sports to the world!

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Wallace’

Zambrano Rips Cubs After Loss…This Time He’s Absolutely Right

Posted by sportsmaven on June 5, 2011

After the Chicago Cubs crafted yet another come from ahead loss to long time nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Zambrano could hold back no longer. Moments after Albert Pujols launched his second of back to back walk off homers to beat the Cubs on consecutive days, Zambrano took a minute comment on the Cubs morbid play and this time he couldn’t be more spot on with his commentary. In his post-game comments following Sunday’s 3-2 loss, Zambrano pulled no punches when asked what he thought of the outcome, as reported by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune:

“The problem wasn’t Pujols,” Zambrano said in a loud voice, glancing toward Marmol’s locker as he spoke. “The problem was (Marmol’s slider to Theriot).

“We should know better than this. We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed — that’s the word for this team.

“We should know better than what we (did) on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The unfortunate part of what is quickly becoming a lost season for the Cubs, Big Z seems to be the only one in the Cubs organization who is not only openly honest in how the team is currently playing, but also seems to be the only one with any sense of holding anyone accountable for poor play as of late. No, the problem wasn’t WHAT Big Z said, the problem was that he was THE ONLY ONE that stepped up to say it. Past history aside, maybe Zambrano should be questioned for being the bearer of this on the mark comment, as his past comments haven’t been sparkling to say the least. But Sullivan’s comment of Zambrano throwing Cubs closer Carlos Marmol under the bus? C’mon, this needed to be said. If not by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, then certainly by manager Mike Quade, who is the orchestrator of the latest incarnation of the debacle known as the Chicago Cubs and is quickly losing the faith and support of the dwindling Cubs fan base.

The best thing to happen to Tom Ricketts, Mike Quade and their Cubs team was the long playoff run by the Chicago Bulls, which took all the pressure and focus off of a wobbly and challenging early season of marginal play by a team with a severe identity crisis. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Cubs, as the focus has shifted from the wildly successful Bulls season that ended prematurely, directly to a team that is in it’s worst performing stretch of play thus far this season.

And unfortunately for Mike Quade, direct comparisons with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau will now start, as Quade seems to hold what appears to be a diametrically opposite coaching/managing philosophy to Thibodeau, who is notoriously known for holding his players accountable. Just ask Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah about accountability.

Another unfortunate situation for Quade is sharing the Chicago baseball spotlight with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen who would, as Sullivan eloquently states, never allow another player to throw a teammate under the bus because that’s his job to do as Sox manager.

Being a player’s manager in and of itself is not a bad thing. The other thing that Tom Thibodeau is known for is being a players coach and he seems to be skillfully adept at managing that along with player accountability. What I wanted to hear from Quade today would be something to the effect of:

“We didn’t get the job done again today. We had the book on Ryan Theriot, went away from what we knew best and it burned us. We also had an opportunity to change our approach from yesterday and we didn’t do that and it cost us the game. This is an unacceptable performance today and in this series from the manager down to the 25th guy on the roster and we need to change this immediately in order to get better.”

Instead, according to Paul Sullivan, Quade chose to say this:

Manager Mike Quade, who watched Pujols beat his team in extra innings for the second straight day, said he would let his players “deal with” Zambrano’s critique.

“I don’t know exactly what that means,” Quade said of the “Triple-A” comment. “We had a chance to win a ballgame 2-1, and we didn’t get it done. The people that picked him up were not Triple-A caliber, (Sean Marshall) and Marmol.”

Marmol has blown saves in Zambrano’s last two starts. Quade said he had no problem with Marmol throwing a slider to Theriot with a 2-2 count and the tying run on first.

“He got ahead with his fastball,” Quade said. “Right now, I could care less. Those are the things you go back and look at tomorrow.

“Marmol throws a slider. Everybody is always (ticked) when he gets beat with his fastball. I’m just (ticked) when we get beat. ‘Z’ pitched good. That’s all I know.”

Sounds like shades of ex-Chicago Bulls interim head coach Jim Boylan, who in 2008, had an incident with then-rookie Joakim Noah, who yelled at assistant coach Ron Adams when Adams was riding Noah particularly hard in practice. In a still stunning move, Boylan allowed Bulls veterans Adrian Griffin and Ben Wallace to add 2 additional games to the one game suspension Boylan had already doled out to Noah for the yelling incident. Yes, let’s let the players police themselves and deal with the critique. Good idea.

Of course Quade’s “players rule” mantra ultimately starts at the top with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who had a chance to inject some upfront honesty when asked by the Chicago sports media this week to assess how his team has performed thus far this season:

“When asked earlier today what was wrong with his 23-30 team (now 23-34 after the Cardinals weekend sweep) on the verge of being swept by the “worst” team in the National League (the Houston Astros), Ricketts said simply: “Nothing. Just a lot of injuries. We’ll be fine.'”

Of course if you believe that a team that has the longest current losing streak in MLB at 6 in a row, a team that has yet to win 3 games in a row all season, a team with a 23-34 record good for 5th place, has 7 players on the disabled list, the worst pitching in the NL, second worst fielding in the NL, a team that has taken the fewest walks in the league while giving up the most walks in the league is “fine”, then you have drunk the Kool-Aid the Ricketts have served along with the improved “Wrigley Experience”.

As famed Clinton political strategist James Carville would say if asked about the state of the Chicago Cubs, “It’s all about winning, stupid!” and the Cubs aren’t doing a lot of that along with not enough honest looking into the mirror either. Good for you, Big Z, wish your management would have beat you to the punch on that one though.

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Three Reasons Why Chicago Bulls Show Signs Of Implosion

Posted by sportsmaven on January 26, 2009

This has not been the best of weeks for a beleagured Chicago Bulls basketball franchise.  This week may be, perhaps the most trying and challenging week in the last 10 years since the drama filled Bulls championship run ended in 1998. With tonight’s 109-108 OT loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls end the week with a five game losing streak.  The Bulls have looked unprepared, disjointed, and uninspired.  And  now, G Ben Gordon airs his dirty laundry out on a rookie head coach in a profanity laced tirade over his objections to a fine for being late for the team flight. The argument just happened to occur in plain sight of the local Chicago sportswriting media.  It may be an inflection point for a franchise that has seen more turmoil of late than championship caliber basketball.

Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha (2), guard Kirk Hinrich (12), and forward Tyrus Thomas (24) look on from the bench in the final seconds of their 109-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha (2), guard Kirk Hinrich (12), and forward Tyrus Thomas (24) look on from the bench in the final seconds of their 109-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Where did it all go wrong for the Chicago Bulls?  The Bulls ended the 2006-2007 season with a record of 49-33, one win away from the magical 50 win mark, an acheivement the Bulls have not accomplished since 1998, the year of the 6th and final NBA Championship.  In the 2006-07 playoffs, the Bulls swept the defending NBA Champions, the Miami Heat decisively in 4 games.  In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Bulls ran into a buzzsaw, losing the first three games of the series to the Detroit Pistons, but showed great heart and fight by coming back to win the next two games, including a game in Detroit, before bowing out of the playoffs in a 95-85 Game 6 loss.  These Bulls were positioned to skyrocket back to prominence in the Eastern Conference, with some experts picking the Bulls as a favorite to win the conference in 2007-08.

The Bulls took three steps back in 2007 and continue to take yet another step back this season, and it clearly shows when looking at the performance over the last season and a half.  There are three reasons why the Bulls are in a free-fall.  They are:

1.  Lack of growth and development from the core players of this team. F Luol Deng eventually received his long term contract, signing a 6 year, $71 million contract in July 2008.  He’s proceeded to become oft injured and his improvement has stalled as his missed time increased.scoring, rebounding and assist totals have decreased three years in a row.  G Ben Gordon signed the one year tender again, after initially stating he would not play for the Bulls again, and remains a perfect 6th man that demands to be a starter, a scorer extreme, and defensive liability.  C Joakim Noah has made virtually no progress in improving his game, irking veteran teammates with untimely, unwise criticism, while averaging 5.8 pts and 5.8 rebounds in his very short, very unenergetic career.  F Tyrus Thomas is one of the most athletic players in the NBA, but after 2/12 seasons, 187 games, he is shown only incremental improvement.  Add in the inconsistent play of G Thabo Sefolosha, the young core of the Bulls team has shown a clear lack of development.

2.  When the Bulls fired Scott Skiles, management removed one of the only legitimate symbols of a winning mindset. Coaching in the NBA is part knowledge of the game and part psychologist, and Skiles had a history of taking talented teams and getting them to buy into his program of selfless sharing on offense and hustling, all out play on defense, which ultimately leads to winning.  He lifted a struggling Phoenix Suns team to the playoffs, but was fired after the team stopped responding to his demanding, hard-charging style and started to tune him out.  The same thing happened in Chicago.  Now Skiles is the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and he has the Bucks in the 8th and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today.  The Bucks appear to be responding to Skiles coaching style quite nicely.  After Skiles, the Bulls needed to either reshape the roster, or hire a coach to take them from Point A to Point B.  What they did was whiff badly on their first to choices for coach (Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins) ultimately taking a chance on a rookie coach (Vinny Del Negro) who has never coachedbasketball  on any level, who has a reputation for being a communicative “players coach”, the philosophical opposite of Skiles.  To date, that risk appears to have not panned out, with speculation of DelNegro losing the team already and rumors that he may not be around to finish the season.

3. Management has failed to acquire one superstar who can carry a team and provide leadership on the floor. Bulls General Manager John Paxson has tried to bring an atmosphere of winning back the Bulls organization.  He has focused on drafting and acquiring players that have played for high profile, winning collegiate basketball programs such as Duke Blue Devils (Deng and G Chris Duhon), Connecticut Huskies (Gordon), national championship runner up Kansas Jayhawks (G Kirk Hinrich and F Drew Gooden), and the national champion Florida Gators (Noah).   While the group of players Paxson acquired are solid basketball players, they are all role players of a supporting cast lacking a true superstar caliber player.  Paxson, like his predecessor, Jerry Krause, has whiffed on acquiring ultratalented superstars such as G Kobe Bryant and  F Kevin Garnett, instead, opting for a past his prime C Ben Wallace, who signed such an albatross contract, that Paxson had to take on the equally bad contract of G Larry Hughes to move Wallace.  The Bulls did luck out in winning the 2008 NBA Draft lottery, yielding Chicago-native G Derrick Rose from University of Memphis.  Rose is young and an up and coming superstar, but is not there yet.  Until he gets there, the Bulls will struggle with the roster they have today.

The remainder of this Bulls season should be focused on finding out if Vinny DelNegro is the right coach, identifying players on the current roster who can play with Derrick Rose, and positioning themselves as far under the salary cap as they can get in 2010, when they can grab any one of a host of superstars from a free agent class headed by F LeBron James, F Chris Bosh, F Dirk Nowitzki, G Dwayne Wade, amongst others.  Anything outside of this may signal the end of the John Paxson era in Chicago.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Musings On The Chicago Bulls and the NBA

Posted by sportsmaven on April 21, 2008

The NBA playoffs started this weekend and noticeably absent are the Chicago Bulls. While the best teams in the NBA begin the “money” season, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks hire disciplinarian coaches like Scott Skiles. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls are holding their off season team meetings and wondering what to make of the mess of a wrecked season.

In the NBA, like other major professional sports leagues, teams win with a combination of athleticism/talent and desire. With talent and desire, you are the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics. With lack of athleticism/talent, but an abundance of desire, you can be teams like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers and in the past, teams like the Chicago Bulls. Teams with neither talent or desire become the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks.

What exactly happened with the Chicago Bulls this season? The Bulls were a team with little talent but with great desire. They worked, hustled, played defense according to the gospel of John Paxson and Scott Skiles. It brought the Bulls 49 wins last season, a playoff series win against the rapidly aging Miami Heat, and a heated playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Entering this season, the Chicago Bulls had a high draft pick, compliments of the New York Knicks and all their starters returning from last season’s successful run. Many picked the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.

Then, two things happened that led to the downfall of this year’s team. First, Bulls GM John Paxson knew that he needed a superstar talent to lead this team. Every successful team in the NBA, short of the Detroit Pistons, have a superstar player, a team leader, the guy that will take over in crunch time of a game and impose the will to win on his teammates. Paxson missed badly on acquiring C Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and whiffed a couple of times on trades for C Pau Gasol. Paxson had drafted some very nice complementary players from solid, winning college programs after cleaning up the mess left by previous Bulls GM Jerry Krause, but none had proven to be the superstar, athletic talent that teams require to compete in the upper echelon of NBA championship contenders. Paxson correctly determined that he needed to acquire that superstar player, and as timing would have it, during the NBA pre-season, Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was vocally unhappy with his situation and publicly stated he desire to get out of Los Angeles. To his credit, Paxson inquired about the availability of Kobe Bryant and rumors ran rampant over the airwaves. Bryant was sure to be traded, as there has been no love lost between Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, supposedly Jackson had enough with his moody star player. The table was set for a blockbuster deal with prime players identified from the Bulls being some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Ben Wallace. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were also offered what each player considered lowball contract offers going into the preseason, but combined with the trade talks, led to a bad taste in every player’s mouths. In the end, the teams never came to terms on players and the deal fell through as the season began.

The second thing that happened was most likely residual from the events above, for some reason, most every player on the Bulls had stopped responding to the playing and coaching style that brought great success to the Bulls. The Bulls stopped hustling for loose balls, stopped playing hard nosed defense, lacked hustle, with team play virtually non-existent. Both Deng and Gordon admitted that the Kobe Bryant trade rumors plus the perceived lowball contract offers affected their play. Each played as through they had to individually prove they were worth not only bigger contracts, but to justify not being traded for Bryant. Their play dropped off dramatically, along with the other potential players in the trade, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, and Tyrus Thomas and the fate of Coach Scott Skiles and the Chicago Bulls was sealed.

So where does that leave the Bulls now? John Paxson had two of the most difficult tasks to complete in last year’s off-season. He needed to find a superstar, talented player and needed to move Ben Wallace and his albatross contract. Paxson was successful in unloading Wallace to the Cleveland Cavaliers after this season was lost, but has been glaringly unsuccessful in getting that superstar athletic stud talent, and without the high draft picks that can yield that player in the NBA draft. If the Bulls get lucky to land one of the top 2 picks and be in a position to get C Michael Beasley or G Derrick Rose, they can still leverage a combination of Larry Hughes, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Drew Gooden to land a second superstar type player to fuel their rebuilding process. The Bulls need athletic, talented players that have the desire to compete and win every night and need to complement those players with a supporting cast of complimentary players. Right now, they have the complimentary players, but they still lack the superstar.

The Bulls also need a coach that will bring the team spirit back, a coach that can get the players to buy into the team concept once again. Rick Carlisle is available, as is Larry Brown as well as a slew of other ex-NBA coaches that work for ESPN, TNT, or any other network that employs ex-basketball coaches. This offseason is mission critical for GM John Paxson. If he doesn’t get it right, his next moves will be as ex-GM of the Chicago Bulls.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Bulls Are Not A Good Team….And Time Is Running Out

Posted by sportsmaven on January 19, 2008

Watching the Chicago Bulls play the Golden State Warriors tonight in a 119-111 home loss, it occurred to me that the Bulls are flat out, not a very good team. And that’s about as polite as I can get about a team that really lacks game-breaking talent or any semblance of leadership, organization, or passion. The Bulls also lack a clear identity and that’s been a long running problem for this team and organization. The Bulls have somehow figured out a way to take two and a half steps back on the path to reclaiming their glory days of the Michael Jordan years.

Bulls Lose To Warriors 119-111

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

It appeared that the Bulls were assembling good, solid, fairly skilled players that are fundamentally sound and would be great complementary pieces to a marquee free agent signing. The Bulls then signed F/C Ben Wallace and paid him a boat load of money, but I’m still not exactly sure WHY they signed him. He was a high profile name, coming from a successful, NBA Champion pedigreed team in the Detroit Pistons, and seemed to be high energy with the heart of a gamer. A closer look at Ben Wallace shows an undersized F/C that was clearly on the downside of his career, a defensive stopper with no offensive game, a free throw shooter on par with Shaquille O’Neal, in short, not the marquee name to slide into the star role the Bulls sorely lack and need.

Future drafts and free agents signings brought in good, talented players from successful college programs. The Bulls were assembling more complementary talent, that I was sure was earmarked for a trade to bring a game-breaker or two. Then the Tyrus Thomas pick….GM John Paxson moved off the playbook and drafted for potential, bypassing C LaMarcus Aldridge for a more athletic, less fundamental, sky high potential of a freak athlete with only two years of college basketball under his belt. Then the whole thing blew up under the weight of high expectations following a 49 win season in 2006-2007.

After tonight’s home loss the Bulls record stands at 14-22, 8 games under .500 and having a very Chicago Bears-like season. The Bulls, owners of a win streak no longer than two games, are a mess. The Joakim Noah farce was the latest in a turbulent season that has seen gross underachievement, the firing of very successful head coach, Scott Skiles, on Christmas Eve, nonetheless, the two day pause in naming Jim Boylan as interim head coach (as if Skiles was fired with no plan for a replacement in mind) and now G JamesOn Curry developing a urination problem that required resisting arrest and an overnight stay in a Boise, ID jail cell.

The record and poor play would have been more than enough to dislodge the faithful. Add in the endless public relations nightmares, repeated over and over again, the lack of any clear direction or vision for this team, and the lack of any action to forge an identity (pointing out lack of pulling triggers on trades for Memphis C Pau Gasol, C Kevin Garnett, SG Kobe Bryant, or any other playmaker that can make a difference). Now there is talk that the Bulls may be interested in Tracy McGrady. Please. The Bulls are turning into the New York Knicks, and doing it so well, that people are forgetting about the real New York Knicks. Only in the NBA Eastern Conference, would a team like the Bulls be sniffing a playoff spot with this kind of karma……Note to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng: you should have signed those contracts.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Chicago Bulls Win Again In the Drive To 50 Wins

Posted by sportsmaven on March 26, 2007

It may be highly improbable that the Chicago Bulls win 50 games this season, but it’s not for lack of effort if it doesn’t happen. The Bulls played tough defense tonight and got a great scoring game from F Luol Deng tonight in beating the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, 100-89.

Bulls Win Again Vs. Portland Trail Blazers

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

A couple of things to note from tonight’s game:

1. A New Bulls Scoring Machine: F Luol Deng had a career scoring night with 38 points. This is a good sign that Deng’s game is peaking as the Bulls drive to a first round home court advantage in the playoffs.

2. Big Ben Tolls: C Ben Wallace had 16 rebounds and played all over tonight. He looked pretty good. He will be announcing tomorrow at Steve & Barry’s in Mt. Prospect, IL that he will be launching a new $15 basketball shoe a’la Stephon Marbury. I knew I liked this guy’s game both on and off the court.

3. Defensive once again: The trademark Bulls defense made a guest appearance tonight, forcing 22 Trail Blazer turnovers, 7 steals, and 6 blocked shots. The close your eyes Bulls defense also made a guest appearance, allowing the Blazers to shoot 52.5% from the field, 50% from three point land, and narrowly outrebounding the Blazers 39-37. The game was tied late into the third quarter until the Bulls pulled away late. The Bulls gave away a 14 point lead at one point tonight.

4. Duel of the Rookies: LaMarcus Aldridge had a very nice game for the Trail Blazers. His line: 34 minutes 20 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 0 free throws. He hit some nice jumpers and showed some strong moves to the basket, possibly letting the Bulls know what they were missing by trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas. As for Thomas, 22 minutes, 2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks — decent, but not spectacular by any means. Thomas is a work in progress, although I like what he is showing now and his playing time is increasing.

The Bulls are barely winning games, but that’s not all that bad. This team needs to learn how to win the close games because for the most part, the NBA Playoffs are all about fairly evenly matched talented teams. Close game experience will be key in the playoffs and the Bulls are getting a ton of it now. Keep it coming. At 42-30 with 10 games to go, the Bulls need to finish 8-2 for the 50 win plateau.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »